Palmer, a savvy land developer, women's advocate, and art collector helped establish Temple Terrace

Bertha Matilde Honoré was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1849. By age 21 she had already established herself as an accomplished writer, musician, and linguist. In 1870, she married Potter Palmer, a wealthy businessman from Chicago who was 23 years her senior. A year later, the Chicago Fire destroyed their luxury hotel and wiped out most of their wealth. Despite this setback, the couple went on to regain their fortune and rise to the top of Chicago's elite society. Bertha played a significant role in reestablishing the Palmers' multimillion dollar fortune and solidifying their high social status.

During her married years, Palmer made a name for herself through astute business dealings and art acquisitions. She used her political connections and socialite status to promote women's rights and anti-poverty advocacy. She was celebrated for organizing exhibits about women's history in the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and bringing attention to societal contributions made by women.

Turn of the century Florida real-estate mogul

As a widow in her late 50s and 60s, Palmer focused on land development in Florida. She purchased over 80,000 acres in and around Sarasota, and 19,000 acres in Temple Terrace. She named the land in Temple Terrace "Riverhills Ranch" and turned it into an exclusive hunting preserve and winter retreat for wealthy snowbirds.

The Woodmont Clubhouse, located in what is now Woodmont Park, is an original building from the ranch. It was built in 1914 to serve as a stable and carriage house. It is Temple Terrace's oldest building and is currently a community center.

Bertha Palmer Faces Behind the Places
The Woodmont Clubhouse, located in what is now Woodmont Park, is an original building from the Riverhills Ranch.

Temple Terrace takes off

After Palmer's passing in 1918 at the age of 68, Riverhills Ranch and the surrounding area was sold to private developers. The area was transformed into Temple orange groves, as well as a residential area with a golf course, polo field, and tennis courts. This was in line with Palmer's vision for the land to be a golf course community among citrus groves.

Palmer was ahead of her time in many ways. Not only was she one of the first Americans to value and collect French Impressionist paintings, but more importantly, she was a trailblazer for women in business and for encouraging gender equality. She is known for her pioneering work developing farmland and real estate, and for encouraging affluent northerners to invest and winter in Florida. Palmer's influence on land development and the arts in the area continues to be felt over a century later.

Bertha Palmer Faces Behind the Places
The Mrs. Bertha Honoré Palmer historical marker.

Historical Marker Inscription

Mrs. Bertha Honoré Palmer
Bertha Palmer, born in Louisville, Kentucky, was a world-renowned socialite, art patron, successful businesswoman, early feminist, and philanthropist. She played a pivotal role in the creation of the City of Temple Terrace. In 1902, after the death of her husband, Chicago millionaire Potter Palmer, she became entranced with exotic, mysterious Florida and headed south in search of new adventures and business opportunities. Mrs. Palmer's main residence was in the Sarasota area. She soon became one of the largest land owners in the state. Between 1910 and 1914 she established a 19,000 acre (29 square miles) hunting and game preserve in the Temple Terrace area and called it "Riverhills Ranch." Before her death in 1918, Mrs. Palmer had made improvements to the property making it suitable for a town of 500 inhabitants. This building, known as Woodmont Clubhouse since 1979, was originally an outbuilding for Mrs. Palmer's extensive ranch. Built in 1914, it is Temple Terrace's oldest building and the last surviving structure in the city from the Palmer era. In 1927, it was converted into the city's first school, the one-room "Temple Terrace Grammar School." It later was saved from demolition through efforts led by Ruby McSweeney and later by Marjorie Schine. Today it is a cherished community center for three civic groups.

Marker location

The marker is on Woodmont Avenue just west of North Lockmoor Avenue, on the left when traveling west. It is in front of the Woodmont Clubhouse.

The Mrs. Bertha Honoré Palmer historical marker was erected in 2012 by Woodmont Clubhouse Association, Inc., Temple Terrace Garden Club, GFWC Temple Terrace Woman's Club, GFWC Temple Terrace Junior Woman's Club, Temple Terrace Preservation Society, Hillsborough County Historical Advisory Council, and the City of Temple Terrace.

Last Modified: 1/26/2024, 9:05:45 PM

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